27 September 2023

Cost of living: Saving money on food

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Patrick Wright* looks at how to save money on groceries as food prices rise.

If you’ve taken a trip to the supermarket lately, you might have noticed that some food is costing more than usual.

When you factor in other rising costs, like fuel, you might be finding your budget isn’t stretching as far as it normally would.

However, with a bit of planning and some substitutions, you can keep costs down while still enjoying healthy, home-cooked meals.

“You can feed a family of six, really, for the same price you can buy one [fast-food] meal if you’re really smart about the way you cook,” says Nicole Constable, who runs a nutrition education and skills program with OzHarvest.

Here are some tips to keep in mind next time you’re at the supermarket.

Plan ahead to save time and money

Clare Collins, laureate professor in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle, says planning ahead for meals and snacks is important for keeping your food budget in check.

“You plan [for] the meals and snacks … and it’s not like you have to cook a fancy meal every night,” she says.

“You can make enough for two nights and keep it in the freezer for the busiest night, or the night you’re late to come home.”

The main advantage of doing a meal plan is that it can help you reduce impulse buys at the shops.

Professor Collins worked with other dieticians and nutrition researchers to create “No Money, No Time”, a free resource with affordable recipes, meal plans and advice for younger people.

“For $55 per week, we showed how they can eat as a meat eater or vegetarian, meet all their nutrient requirements and save a heap of money,” she says.

Have a budget for foods you want but don’t need

The most recent Australian Household Expenditure Survey, from the 2015/16 financial year, found Australian households spent an average of $237 a week on food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Professor Collins says a large part of that is “discretionary choices” including meals purchased away from home and junk foods.

“Have a budget for your discretionary food.

“Then aim to stick to that budget and it will help you rein in your food dollars,” she says.

“Another tip is to do a quick inventory of your pantry and fridge before shopping to avoid buying food you already have.

Be a savvy grocery shopper

Ms Constable, who runs a national program on healthy eating and affordable cooking for OzHarvest, says there are plenty of ways to save money at the shops.

  • When comparing prices, look at the unit cost — for example, how much a product costs per serve or per 100 grams.
  • Buy meat to freeze — save money by buying it on special or when it’s close to its use-by date.

You can also save money by marinating or flavouring meat yourself.

  • Frozen vegetables and berries can be cheaper — and they have the same nutritional value.
  • Buy fresh foods in season — always look to see which fruits and vegetables are on special.

You can also look to save money at the supermarket by buying imperfect foods.

  • Buy generic brands to save money.
  • Consider switching out meat for legumes or pulses — This can help you with adding vegetables to your diet and will save you money, too.

One of Ms Constable’s favourite low-cost meals is lentil curry with rice.

“It’s is a common one we cook up.

“It’s about $1.80 per serve, with rice, and you can feed a family of six for under $12,” she says.

Another family favourite is a vegetable and cheese omelette.

You can use frozen vegetables or whatever leftovers you have in your fridge.

*Patrick Wright is a reporter for ABC Life.

This article first appeared at abc.net.au

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